Early Learning Indiana had an ambitious goal, one that would address a major need across the state. While the demand for early childhood educators in Indiana is growing, there’s a lack of qualified teachers to meet the need. Early Learning Indiana, an organization that strives to ensure young children are prepared with the essential skills needed for kindergarten and beyond, wanted to provide teachers with an accessible and affordable education.

That’s why they partnered with Butler to create the Early Childhood Educator Certificate Program starting this fall.

“Being able to step into the community allows us to say, ‘We want to be part of a solution,’” says Stephanie Hinshaw, Executive Director of Butler’s Transformation Lab. “We could potentially be able to help prepare future educators in a way that’s more attainable and accessible for them.”

Hinshaw’s work at the Transformation Lab is to make ideas like the certificate program come to life, a process that started when Early Learning sent out a request for proposal in fall 2019.

“One of the things that was really important to us was the ability to think outside of the box,” says Erin Kissling, Chief Learning Officer at Early Learning. “Not a traditional higher-ed setting in a classroom where you hear someone speak at you, but a job-embedded model where you are taking what you just learned in the coursework and applying it to the classroom.”

The certificate program consists of 12 four-week courses that can be completed in 15 months, a significantly shorter time-frame compared to other alternatives and crucial to reaching early educators. Early Learning President Maureen Weber says one teacher told her it took her 11 years to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Through Butler, candidates for the certificate program complete coursework online taught by faculty members within Butler’s College of Education and are mentored by individuals on-site called Cooperative Teachers.

“We had to think through all the systems at Butler that needed to be transformed to serve a very different type of student than we have historically,” says Brooke Kandel, Dean of the College of Education. Creating the certificate program required coordination between not only the College of Education, Transformation Lab, and Early Learning, but the Office of Admission, student support services, and Information Technology, to name a few.

“These students might never be on campus,” Kandel says. “How do we help them, what does tech support look like, what are all the touchpoints we need to plan to make sure they have success?”

“When you’re coming up with a program that’s not in your traditional model, it takes time to break that model,” Hinshaw says.

Currently there are plans in place to create a pathway from the early certificate program to a bachelor’s degree in Youth and Community Development, something Hinshaw is particularly excited about.

“It’s serving people that we weren’t serving before,” Hinshaw says. “It’s expanding Butler’s reach, and most importantly, it’s going to address a true, messy, wicked problem in the community. To be able to play a small role in addressing that is exciting.”

The goal of the certificate program isn’t just to address the demand for early childhood educators in years to come; the hope is to provide families with access to high quality childcare. According to an Early Learning Indiana report in 2021, current childcare programs in the state can serve just over half of Indiana’s population of children ages 0–5, while just 46 percent of that care is considered high quality.

Weber points to studies that show the connection between quality childcare and parents feeling comfortable in joining the workforce.

“It’s not a stretch to say that this program Butler is launching will have a downstream impact on our ability to be competitive as a state,” Weber says. “We talk about a two-generational impact. I can’t think of anything else that can have such a profound impact on today’s workforce while at the same time ensuring that we have a future workforce that’s ready for what the future has in store.”